I've been wanting to write this post forever, but I wasn't sure how to go about it. Food, eating, weight, nutrition, they can be such sensitive topics. Earlier this year I started reading and learning more about these things, and have discovered some stuff that has really helped me a lot, so I wanted to share. I'm sure there are others out there with similar experiences, so if this can help even one other person, it will be worth writing this all down here!
A favorite breakfast: slow scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, sliced tomatos, red onions, and capers
Last year I talked about trying to eat less meat. I didn't become a vegetarian, but I did greatly reduce my meat consumption. I made up for that by adding lots of pasta, bread, and soy into my diet. I gained back a lot of the weight I had worked hard to lose a couple years before, I was feeling tired and depressed, and in a nine month period I was sick three separate times (as in stay in bed for a few days, fever, achey, sniffley, sick), for most of my adult life I am pretty sure I have also suffered from IBS. I was feeling like there was no way I would ever be a healthy weight, unless I starved myself (and how is that healthy, mentally or physically?), and I was destined to be tired and have a crappy immune system for the rest of my life. After all, I was eating "healthy," right?
In March, I happened upon a book called Why We Get Fat, by Gary Taubes. Coincidentally, Netflix kept recommending a documentary called Fat Head, in which Taubes is briefly mentioned. I read the book and watched the movie, and found myself going down a nutrition rabbit hole that I still haven't crawled out of four months later. I am not good at explaining science, so I will mostly just give you lots of links to things that explain things better than I can.
So first of all, Why We Get Fat, despite the title, isn't a diet book in the sense that it gives you meal plans, it's more about the science behind how our bodies use the food we eat. The theme of the book is basically that the conventional wisdom we've all been hearing for the last thirty years (low-fat! healthy whole grains!) or so is completely wrong, it's not as simple as calories-in-calories-out, and it's not dietary fat that makes us fat, but rather sugar (in the form of HFCS and other sweeteners, grains and other carbohydrates) that is the cause of our current obesity epidemic. He cites lots of studies, so he has the science to back up all his ideas. In Fat Head (be aware, the documentarian is very much a libertarian, and while there is not a lot of political content, it is there. I tend to be libertarian-leaning, but I keep politics away from my blog 🙂 so I didn't mind it, but if you have strong, differing views, I just hope it won't keep you from all the other good information), there are some great bits explaining all this too, and also some stuff about cholesterol, and why it's not quite so evil as we might think.
Next up, I found the Weston A. Price Foundation, which is all about eating traditional, whole foods, like raw dairy, natural meats including organ meats, eggs, and of course fruits and vegetables. There's tons of nutrition info on their site.
I also bought a copy of Real Food by Nina Planck, that I'm still reading. She was a vegetarian and was becoming increasingly sick and gaining weight, but now embraces a similar diet to the Weston A. Price Foundation. Speaking of vegetarian, I am also reading The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Kieth, which is very eye-opening. She was actually vegan for 20+ years, and her health has suffered drastically because of her diet. She looks at all the arguments for not consuming animal products, and explains, logically, why she no longer supports those arguments. I'm not done with that one yet either, and I don't know if I will agree with everything she says, but so far she has made some very compelling points.
At the sushi bar: field greens with tuna sashimi
Of course I also watched Food, Inc. and another documentary about the corn industry, called King Corn. Both of which are very educational about the sad, sad state of the industrial food industry in this country. Cows should not be eating grain, for one thing! And chickens shouldn't have to grow up in such deplorable conditions. We need to support local farmers as much as possible, there are better ways to raise our food. I knew all of this already, but I don't think I let myself realize just how bad it was. It's become very important to me to not participate in that any more. I wish I lived near Polyface Farms, they are doing some amazing things. All that is really another post, however, so I'll save it for another time.
All this led me to all the various incarnations of the paleo diet (caveman diet, evolution diet, primal diet), and I read The Primal Blueprint. I liked the philosophy in this one, it's very much just a blueprint, you decide exactly what you want to eat within certain guidelines (no grains, no processed food, limited dairy-depending on your sensitivity, and carb consumption is based on your goals, but definitely under 150g per day, everything as natural and organic as possible), and try to stay within those guidelines 80% of the time. No calorie counting, no strict menu or stringent meal times. It's not a Diet-with-a-capital-D, it's just a way to eat that will nourish your body and help you make the switch from burning sugar for fuel to using fat as fuel. There's also more about exercise (avoid chronic cardio, move slowly, lift heavy things, and play!), but again, no strict regimen to follow.
Almond-crusted chicken Parmesan with zucchini noodles
I started following these guidelines on April 1: no grains, no seed oils (canola, soybean, corn), no soy, no legumes, limited dairy. There were a couple weeks of carb flu-I was tired and felt foggy, but even with those negative symptoms, everything else started feeling so much better, things that I didn't expect. I slept better, my mood improved, I didn't wake up with my sinusus full of snot, I was full and satisfied with the food I was eating, and the minor sweet cravings I had were easily satisfied with fruit or dark chocolate (Green & Blacks 85% dark is my favorite!). I have been a sugar addict as long as I can remember, and I feel like I've really kicked the sugar habit.
So far this summer I've suffered very little from allergies, even cleaning my dusty shed hasn't sent me into never-ending sneezing fits like it normally would. I'm reserving full judgement until early fall, when my seasonal allergies are generally at their worst, but I'm feeling optomistic. And that IBS? I don't know how to put this delicately, but it is nearly 100% gone. I feel like what I am eating is so full of nutrients that my body is using almost everything I put into it, so there is very little waste coming out. Was that delicate enough? And you know what else? Gassiness is almost non-existent. I've also heard of lots of people seeing improvement with things like migraines and arthiritis by eating this way, so please consider this if you suffer from those problems.
I really think that diet and nutrition have far more to do with our health than we realize, and getting all the vitamins and minerals we need to function well from real food is far more effective than taking pills or supplements. I didn't expect to see such dramatic differences so quickly, but it has been amazing to see so many changes in the way I feel.
Salmon with basil mayonnaise, grilled zucchini, and sauteed spinach
So what do I eat these days? There are a few pictures in this post, and you can see more here. I eat two or three eggs nearly every day, I have big salads full of seasonal vegetables, doused with lots of olive oil and good vinegars, topped with various proteins. I buy grass-fed beef as often as possible. I regularly eat fish, and pot roast, and roast chicken-including the skin, with mashed cauliflower and vegetables over which I pour the pan drippings. I eat sushi (the rice is a once-in-a-while treat), and when I'm craving something sweet, I'll eat a yam. I don't eat things that have a list of ingredients on a package. About the only things I eat that come in cans are tomatoes and coconut milk, otherwise I'm just shopping the perimeter (excluding the bakery, of course!) of the store.
Some days I eat three meals. Some days I eat two and a little snack of berries (with raw heavy cream, if I have it). Some days I might just eat once. I'm not constantly hungry like I used to be, and I don't get the 3:00 pm munchies like I used to. I'm eating and enjoying good food, but I'm not obsessed with constant thoughts of food any more. Saturday I spent the day running errands, and at 4:30 I realized I hadn't eaten and was starting to feel it. There weren't many good options nearby, so I went to Bob's Big Boy and ordered a burger and ate it without the bun (I did nibble some of the french fries, not the best since they were probably fried in seed oil, but I just considered them a rare indulgence and suffered no ill effects) and I was good for the next few hours.
I'm sure there will be cooking posts in the future, and I'll share some of these delicious recipes I've been making. I probably won't be bombarding you with diet posts, but if you have any questions, please feel free to ask! This has made a huge difference in how I feel, and I think it could benefit a lot of people. Oh yeah, and weight loss? It's not pouring off of me like it does for some, but I've lost nearly 20 pounds over the last few months. I have more to go, but I feel confident that it will keep coming off almost effortlessly, as it has been.
And now for some links!
Mark's Daily Apple (by the author of The Primal Blueprint)
Latest in Paleo (a podcast I sometimes listen to)
Robb Wolf (author of The Paleo Solution, which I haven't read)
The Primal Palate (they just announced they are publishing a cookbook, and it looks really beautiful)
La Tartine Gourmand (Not specifically paleo, but I've made several of her recipes, many of which are just naturally gluten-free, and her stories and photography are beautiful.)
Everyday Paleo (I don't have her cookbook yet, but it's gotten some good reviews)
Whole Foods Advocates:
There are tons more, but that's a lot to get you started if you're interested.